'Aging power plants causing emergency shutdowns'

Posted at 05/19/14 8:26 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The problem of aging power plants is causing the growing incidence of emergency and extended maintenance shutdowns among the country’s power plants, highlighting the need for new power facilities, Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla said.

“The plants are old. Some are older than I am,” said the 51-year-old government executive.

Petilla said it is unavoidable that some units of the existing plants are conking out.

This week will be critical for the Luzon grid, as it would again be placed on yellow alert today and with the highest demand expected to be recorded in the last two weeks of the month at 8,654 megawatts.

A red alert means there is severe power deficiency while a yellow alert means that contingency reserves are below the minimum level set by the regulator but does not necessarily mean power outages or blackouts. A white alert means the situation is back to normal.

As of last Friday, six power plants were off the grid, some since last year due to varied reasons such as scheduled maintenance, extended maintenance or equipment damage.

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The power plants included the Unit 2 of the Calaca Power Plant in Batangas with the capacity of 330 megawatts. The plant has been out since last December on scheduled maintenance.

Another is the Sta. Rita module 40 (263 MW) in Batangas, which has been out since last February and on extended shutdown due to problem encountered with its generator transformer and still being investigated by its consultants.

The Unit 1 of the Malaya Thermal Power Plant in Rizal (300 MW), which has been out since March due to high turbine vibration; Unit 6 of the Limay plant (60 MW) in Bataan, which has been out since March due to high turbine vibration; Limay 7 and 8 (170 MW), out since April, due to still undetermined cause; and Therma Mobile’s diesel generator 1 (9 MW) of the Aboitiz Group, which has been out since May 4, due to a rotor problem.

Had the government-owned Malaya Plant been called to run in November and December when the Malampaya gas to power facility was on maintenance shutdown last year, Petilla said both units may have conked out by now and would not have been available this summer.

The Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM), the government corporation tasked to manage state-owned power assets including Malaya, said the plant’s second unit has been running and providing support since March.

“Malaya has been running as a must-run unit since the last week of March,” PSALM president Emmanuel Ledesma Jr. said.

To help mitigate the critical power situation, the Department of Energy (DOE) will hold talks with retail electricity suppliers (RES) as part of efforts to look for additional sources of power for the country, which is currently facing rising power demand and inadequate supply.

Petilla said the RES can provide additional power when needed or when the grids are placed on red alert.

He said DOE director Mylene Capongcol of the department’s Electric Power Industry Management Bureau would be meeting with generation companies that have RES entities to discuss ways on how they can help when power supply is tight.

RES refers to any entity authorized by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to sell, broker, market or aggregate electricity to the contestable market which consists of a group of end-users who have an average peak demand of 1 MW for 12 months.

“The DOE will be talking to these RES. Malls and other industrial users get their power supply from RES,” Petilla said.

Petilla said the DOE would be meeting the Retail Electricity Suppliers Association (RESA) to discuss ways on how they can participate in addressing the power situation.

This is similar to the case of the so-called Interruptible Load Program (ILP) for Luzon, which was created to provide back-up capacity when power supply is low.

However, Petilla said the more permanent solution is for the private sector to build more power plants.

“That’s why we really need new power plants,” he said.

On the other hand, the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) assured the public that its transmission lines are stable enough to bring power to the Luzon grid.

Lilibeth Gaydowen, NGCP corporate communications and public affairs officer, said the scheduled power interruptions were to give way to regular maintenance work, including replacement of worn-out transmission and facilities.

She said this is to ensure that their transmission facilities are more than capable to deliver the needed power from various power sources such as coal, geothermal and hydro plants to electric cooperatives.

“Unlike in Mindanao, we have many sources of power that is why we still transmit stable power for our consumers,” she said.

Over the week, some parts of Luzon, including Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela and Ifugao, have experienced 10-hour power outages as well as momentarily power disruptions.

“These temporary power interruptions resulted in transforming our power facilities and equipment into a stable condition, thereby ensuring sufficient and continuous flow of power,” Gaydowen said. – With Charlie Lagasca